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Binge-eating disorder can persist for years

By Ernie Mundell, HealthDay News
In a five-year study of binge eating disorder, most of the study participants still met the criteria for the disorder at the five-year mark, although some had made improvements.
 
 Photo by Adobe Stock/HealthDay News
In a five-year study of binge eating disorder, most of the study participants still met the criteria for the disorder at the five-year mark, although some had made improvements. Photo by Adobe Stock/HealthDay News

Prior studies have suggested that binge eating disorder may not last long, but a more rigorous look at the illness finds that just isn't so.

"The big takeaway is that binge-eating disorder does improve with time, but for many people it lasts years," said study first author Kristin Javaras, assistant psychologist in the Division of Women's Mental Health at McLean Hospital in Boston.

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"As a clinician, oftentimes the clients I work with report many, many years of binge-eating disorder, which felt very discordant with studies that suggested that it was a transient disorder," she said in a hospital news release. "It's very important to understand how long binge-eating disorder lasts and how likely people are to relapse so that we can better provide better care."

In binge eating disorder, which typically arises around a person's mid-20s, people feel their eating is out of their control. Anywhere from 1% to 3% of American adults are thought to have the disorder.

According to Javaras' team, prior studies looking at binge eating disorder were either retrospective (meaning they often relied on people's memory of their disorder).

If they were prospective (following patients through time) they were often very small (less than 50 people) or didn't include people tackling severe obesity.

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In the new study, Javaras' team tracked outcomes for 137 adults diagnosed with binge-eating disorder for five years. People ranged in age from 19 to 74 and they had an average BMI of 36 (the threshold for obesity is a BMI of 30).

The people in the study were independently living within their communities and weren't in treatment programs, better reflecting "real-world" experiences with binge-eating disorders.

At the 2.5-year mark, 61% of people in the study still met all the criteria for a binge-eating disorder, and another 23% still had "clinically significant symptoms" although they fell shy of an actual binge eating disorder diagnosis, the researchers said.

By the five-year mark, most of the study participants still met the criteria for have a binge-eating disorder, although some had made improvements, the study authors said.

Even among those who were in remission at 2.5 years, 35% went on to have a full-blown binge-eating disorder by five years, Javaras' team said.

At the five-year mark, most people still had binge-eating episodes, although many had improved.

The findings were published Tuesday in the journal Psychological Medicine.

Javaras notes that prior studies have suggested that treatment programs do help curb eating disorders, but not everyone has access to such programs.

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More information

Find out more about binge-eating disorder at the Mayo Clinic.

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